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So our son is only 15, but he has fallen pretty heavily for a girl who apparently comes with a lot of "baggage". She comes from a broken home and is constantly having issues. Our son spend a lot of time getting dragged into her problems.

I regularly walk in on him at night when he should be asleep and he is on the phone to her because she is feeling paranoid or someone has says something bad to her. He is really sweating over trying to fix her.

He doesn't see any of his friends any more. They came up with an arrangement that they were only to spend time with each other. She constantly needs reassurance from him that he loves her.

From the moment he gets home to the moment he goes to bed - and seemingly afterwards as well he will be on Skype to her. When we get in the way and take his phone away because of homework and such he gets really stressed telling us that this girl is in real trouble and needs his help.

It all came to a head last night. Today he has a very important exam at school, in a subject that he is pretty keen on doing well in. Obviously he needs to spend the evening studying and then have an early and relaxed night to prepare.

But he can't - it turns out his girl is having a hard time and she has told him she is going to kill herself. Obviously he is pretty distressed. My wife talks to her and actually she sounds Ok and she just says son is distressed because he is worried about his exam. This girl is only 13 and so doesn't have any exams herself.

So with all that I come to take his phone away at bed time and the kid completely freaks out. He bangs on about how he misses her and he just wants more time with her and he needs the phone just to hear her say I love you one more time. Etc.. This drama goes on for a while and I stay with him to calm him down. Then.. long after he should be asleep, his phone rings and it is his girl again. I answer and tell her son needs his sleep. Then take the phone away. Son is totally distraught that his girl is going to be awake when he is having to go to sleep. I mean seriously distressed. I figure there is nothing more I can do for him, so I leave him to it. He spends the next hour crying loudly and banging his wall.

The kid is going to be a mess for his exam today. This girl has done nothing to support him and everything to distract him to keep his attention on her.

I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be the right thing is to just come out and say this girl is bad news and he needs to move on, but this is what I feel. What can I do to help him through - and keep him focused on his exams?

  • 6
    What does he say about it? Perhaps he's enjoying the drama. Are the girl's issues genuine? If she really is suicidal then that's objectively more important than your son's exam - have you considered using your adult credibility and access to resources (e.g. medical care) to help support the girl? I realise that this would put some of the pressure on you, but as least you'd be taking it off your son. It sounds like she needs a professional (adult) therapist - I don't mean that in a pejorative way, just it's a lot to expect a 15-year-old to cope with. I wouldn't see this as a discipline issue. – A E May 12 '15 at 13:07
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    @AE I am sure the girls issues are genuine at least to some extent. She clearly has a lot of issues. Suicidal - no, I don't think so. It is too coincidental that she has her worst moments at times when our son needs to put his attention elsewhere. But helping her to access professional help is a good idea. It could help take the pressure off son and help her as well - or at least it would call her out as the attention grabbing drama queen that I think she is. – ScientistSteve May 12 '15 at 13:18
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    Teenage boy is constantly on phone/skype with girlfriend? Doesn't see his friends anymore? This seems like perfectly typical teenage behavior. – DA01 May 12 '15 at 16:04
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    Constantly on the phone is one thing. Being a therapist/counsellor is another. – ScientistSteve May 12 '15 at 19:26
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    Call me a negative nelly, but it might be best to let it run its course. I don't know how to emphasize the importance of condoms at this age, and I wouldn't imagine a 13 year old girl is just allowed to go on birth control. But most people have to be wrecked at least once to really know what they don't want in another person. If she really is this clingy, and doesn't get pregnant, his next girlfriend might be totally awesome if he has learned anything about the exhaustion of fighting someone else's emotions. Live and learn. Unless she gets pregnant. Then you learn how hard life really can be – Kai Qing May 14 '15 at 23:56
21

There are several people here who should be involved, and there are two people to consider whose lives are being impacted in an unhealthy manner. I think there needs to be some adult intervention here.

The girl's parents absolutely need to be informed

Whatever the true intent behind the girl's suicidal expressions, they are still suicidal expressions. The girl's parents need to be informed.

Turn this around: if your son were telling someone he was suicidal, and his friend's parents were trying to "deal with this insofar as it impacted their daughter" without telling you, and your son then disappeared/committed suicide, how would you feel that they didn't tell you about it?

The girl's parents need to find her a therapist

This is absolutely not your job. It's not your daughter. If, and only if, the parents seem to be paying absolutely no attention to her issues (you do have some degree of right to this information), then it should be brought up with the girl's school counselor.

Your son is not a trained therapist, and no one has the right to ask him to take on this burden

She may want him to help her by listening, but this is beyond the ability of a 15 year old to handle wisely.

"He is really sweating over trying to fix her."

That's because he hasn't had a formal education and a few years worth of supervised clinical training in how to handle this. Of course he's in a bad bind. She has given him a responsibility he is not prepared for, and should never have been given.

Did he come to you and tell her of his girlfriend's problems? Did he seek your advice on how to handle it? This would have been a wise thing to do. If he didn't, and you only found out because he wanted badly to continue talking when he was supposed to be doing something else, you can use this fact when you talk to him about why he's ill-equipped to handle the girl's problems.

At her age, school should come first; at his age, relationships should not get your son in trouble in school.

This girl is only 13 and so doesn't have any exams herself.

You and I understand exams differently. Certainly she goes to school? Somehow she gets grades? Are tests different than exams?

It really doesn't matter. This 13 year old girl is not making your son and his well being a high priority. She's only 13, and can't do that yet. She's a bit young to be in such a time-consuming relationship with a boy. If he wants to take care of her (or anyone else) someday, he needs to be in a position to do so. If he isn't a natural wizard at some marketable skill, he needs to learn one. She shouldn't be interfering with his ability to do so.

You are his parents, and his well-being needs to come first to you. You have an obligation to inform the girl's parents, and maybe school counselor - which you should fulfill ASAP - about her condition, then start setting limits on this relationship. That is your responsibility to your son and his future.

While he may well balk, that's no reason not to step in as parents. I see two possible benefits to putting limits on the time they may spend (in person or on any device) together:

  • Your son will have more free time to pursue healthier ways to spend his time, and
  • she may stop seeing him as a comfort-object, either encouraging her to use more appropriate channels to deal with her issues, or to move on to someone who has more free time to spend on her.

He doesn't see any of his friends any more. They came up with an arrangement that they were only to spend time with each other.

In an adult relationship, this would be seen as a precursor to potential abuse. Social isolation means that the isolator is in the position to meet all the the isolated's emotional needs. Or not to. It's a means of control. Explain to your son that this is an unreasonable and unhealthy request for someone to make of him. Hanging out with groups of friends with occasional time alone together is a more normal and healthy relationship for their ages.

When we get in the way and take his phone away because of homework and such he gets really stressed telling us that this girl is in real trouble and needs his help.

That's what her parents, her counselor(s), Child Protection Services, the police, and suicide hotlines are for.

I come to take his phone away at bed time and the kid completely freaks out. He bangs on about how he misses her and he just wants more time with her and he needs the phone just to hear her say I love you one more time.

At his age, this is important to him: to have a female love interest, to be loved, to feel he's in an adult(ish) relationship independent of you, etc. But it's also an immature, unhealthy relationship, and he needs to understand that you are looking out for him out of love and concern. If he absolutely refuses to believe you, make an appointment with his school counselor, discuss the situation, then meet with them with your son. The counselor should shed some light on your son's you-don't-understand-you're-my-parents type objections. If therapy is free in your country, or covered by insurance, he might benefit from examining his own need to be a such an important figure in a relationship with someone else. Wanting to be loved is normal. Wanting to provide full-time therapy is not.

I answer and tell her son needs his sleep. He spends the next hour crying loudly and banging his wall.

It has to end sometime. Grit your teeth, and try not to let him keep the neighbors up.

Take control of his electronics, and make sure he's using them for schoolwork, talking to other friends, etc., as well as some reasonable amount of time - limited - with his young friend.

Use all your parenting skills (or read about parenting and setting limits with adolescents and teens) to help him sort out this mess he's in. Talk often, listen more, and learn about what your son needs. She is meeting a need in him. Try to supply some of what he needs and get him to explore different pathways to getting them met through other relationships. Recognition of and positive reinforcement for good decisions is important always. Negotiate. Teach him about healthy boundaries, so he can learn to set them.

No one with normal teenagers says parenting is a breeze. Still, you have to make the effort. He won't like it, but it' your job.

  • 5
    I would like to second, and emphasize, make an appointment with his school counselor, discuss the situation, then meet with them with your son. The counselor should shed some light on your son's you-don't-understand-you're-my-parents type objections -- I would propose this regardless of how well he seems to be taking your intervention and advice. She is clearly not healthy for him, and therapy to help him not only set boundaries but also heal from the experience is wise. – Acire May 14 '15 at 12:13
  • +1 "That's what her parents, her counselor(s), Child Protection Services, the police, and suicide hotlines are for." – A E May 15 '15 at 10:03
  • Well done. No need for me to offer an answer. – PoloHoleSet Sep 7 '16 at 20:23
  • Excellent answer. I think you would make a good counselor yourself (if you aren't one already). – sleske Sep 8 '16 at 8:41
  • After having made the same experiences (not to the same extend) with a depressed girl for two years, trying to help her..... I can say.... NEVER AGAIN! I wont date a girl with lots of baggage anymore in my life! This was a tough experience and i got a lot of knowledge out of it nevertheless – MansNotHot Feb 7 '18 at 14:17
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I don't recommend you try to discuss this when she is in the throes of a problem. He will not listen to reason at that time. Instead, when things are calm in the middle of the day, walk him through the logic of the situation. Ask him questions. Your use of the phrase "drama queen" suggests that your questions might be along the lines of "was she really in danger?" but I would steer you away from that. While you are probably right, the downside if you're wrong is huge. Instead I might try "are you a trained professional who knows how to help a suicidal person?" and "is her mental and physical health more important than this school year?"

While she very desperately needs something from him, and is calling him to get it, you must also see that he very desperately needs something from her, and doesn't believe he can get it elsewhere. It may be a sense of importance, of being the one who holds everything together, or it may be that first amazing sense of loving someone who loves you, or it may be being part of a team - you probably don't know because he probably doesn't know. So ask him. "When I take your phone away late at night, what am I taking away from you?" How urgent is that? Can you have that in the morning, can you have that after your exam, can you have that on the weekend? Is it a time limited offer? Will she break up with you if you don't ruin your exam for her? If so, does she really love you? Do you really believe that your efforts are the only thing keeping her alive? Isn't that exhausting? Would you like to share that load somehow?

Questions, questions, questions. They may lead him to go do the volunteer training for a crisis line. They may lead him to break up with her. They may lead him to set healthy limits on the relationship himself. I don't know, because I don't know the situation. Nor do you, and not does he. But this is how you will come to know it.

And when you have a spare minute, take a thankful moment to reflect on the luck that put this in his path now, rather than first year away from home with no parent to intervene and point out it is unhealthy. It's an extraordinarily common scenario for first year university and college students and often takes several degrees and futures down with it when it happens.

  • I would be careful with the "is her mental and physical health more important than this school year?" perspective, because yes, a persons physical health is WAY more important than a school year...... Assuming she is actually in any danger (which I think everyone here doubts). So I agree with Chrys, I would just re-word that slightly to not put your son on the defensive. – user7678 May 15 '15 at 13:56
5

This is very definitely a codependent relationship, if he so strenuously resists when his contact with her is restricted. Time to get a therapist involved. If he needs some kind of incentive to go, explain to him that his girlfriend is in danger and that she needs help. But no matter how much he wants to, he has no training. Help him think about all the things that could go wrong, how saying one wrong word or doing one thing which is taken the wrong way (I'll bet he's already found this out) can cause something bad to happen for both of them. He needs to learn how to help the people he loves when they are in danger, and this therapist can help him do that.

Then let the therapist do his thing. Assuming you find a good one he'll be able to bring your son into a healthier frame of mind, whatever that may be in his situation.

2

Although I can't diagnose someone online from second-hand information, what you've described suggests that your son's girlfriend may be suffering from borderline personality disorder. If so, that'a horrible condition to be living with, and my heart goes out to her. (To people saying it's normal teenage behavior - threatening suicide is not normal for any age group. Yes, teens are at higher risk than other ages, but it's still only a small percentage who ever actually express suicidal thoughts.)

Two big things to keep in mind, if she does have this condition. First, people with BPD really are feeling the emotions they say they're feeling, no matter how overblown or conveniently timed it seems. One analogy for BPD is that it's like 'emotional hemophilia'. You know how a person with hemophilia bruises easily and bleeds more from cuts, because they have trouble clotting? Well, a person with BPD have trouble handling strong emotions, and so instead of being able to talk themselves down and self-regulate, the slightest provocation can make their emotions spiral out of control. This is not a choice - if they had any choice in the matter, they would choose not to feel these feelings, because it's absolutely miserable for them.

Secondly, people with BPD don't trust other people, but can't cope without them. So they try to control others and cling to others. They tend to see people in black and white, evil or good, and this is especially true if it's someone important to them. For someone with BPD, relationships are terrifying, but being alone is even more terrifying. It's pretty common for them to do extreme things to get attention from a loved one - not because they're trying to manipulate them, but because being ignored really does make them feel desperate enough to cut themselves or threaten suicide or whatever.

It can seem bizarre to most people, and they think the person must be lying or exaggerating. But the truth is that people with BPD can go through more extremes of emotion in a single day than many people do in a lifetime, and they have absolutely no choice in the matter.

With that said, if your son's girlfriend does have BPD, she needs psychiatric help. Meanwhile, your son needs to avoid being sucked in, or he'll risk throwing his life away trying to save her from herself. In particular, he needs to understand that her issues are not his fault or his responsibility. He can try to help her, but he can't be her savior or her scapegoat. The oxygen mask analogy is apt here - he needs to take care of himself.

Talk to her parents, and talk to her. Don't approach it as 'behavior you want her to stop', approach it as you being concerned about her well-being. Suss out the extent to which they are already aware of her issues, and whether she has gotten counseling or considered counseling. Strongly encourage her or her parents to seek out a professional for her to talk to.

If she calls your son with a crisis when he's busy or sleeping or whatever, tell him and her that she should be calling a crisis helpline instead - it's their job to deal with situations like this.

And have a talk with your son about how sometimes people can have serious emotional problems, and you can be a support to them, but you can't make it better for them. Only a trained professional can do that, and only with their cooperation and commitment to recovery. (Even though living with BPD is horrible, the idea of admitting you have a problem and committing to getting better can be terrifying.) Make it clear that even though her needs are so overwhelming, his needs matter too, and sometimes it's a good thing to be a bit selfish.

  • Hi Ettina. Most of your answer doesn't address the OP's question. While you might be correct that the GF has BPD, it's basically irrelevant to the answer. This would be a better answer without the BPD information. Please see the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Jul 3 '15 at 18:32
1

I am a girl who came from an abusive house hold during this same age. I also have several sisters from a healthier household (I was adopted by other family). I also have a half brother in this age group. So I feel like Ive been in this situation in several ways and what I'm going to tell you may shock you.

This is perfectly normal teenage behavior. Its attention seeking. Almost no teenagers feel like they are truly understood / appreciated by their parents. If the girls parents are mean to her in some way, that feeling is multiplied and multiplied.

Teenagers, especially girls I think, go through huge emotional mountains and valley's all the time, and many young girls tend to use that to stir up drama. So really if your wife has spoken to her and she seems 'Ok' then she is likely Ok. Remember that usually the kids who are bullied, truly depresses and do really want to hurt themselves tend to get quiet, not call their friends all night every night.

So I really doubt that you need any form of counseling or therapy for this situation. (Assuming there isn't actual abuse happening at the girls home.) Both kids are learning how to deal with emotional turmoil and they aren't handling it like calm adults yet. This is a practice run.

What I would suggest:

  • Do not tell your son to not see the girl or he will try to stay with her twice as hard.
  • Do keep communication open with both your son and his girlfriend. Listen and respect their feelings even if you don't agree with them (remember you were a teenager once, what stunts did you pull on your parents?) Maybe invite her over for dinner and talk to her about it in a non judgmental way. Perhaps tell her that no matter what you are always there if she ever really needs help.
  • Do not accept staying up all night on the phone and not studying from your son. This is a disciplinary issue. If the girl really needs help (after a certain hour) she can call the house phone and talk to you. If her parents are beating her, you need to be involved not your son anyway. Take the phone away from your son and treat this like any other disciplinary issue.

One last 2 cents, I remember having to date a few lemons to realize what I really wanted in a partner later in life. Don't fear the bad girlfriends because they could be clearing the way for that special someone.

  • Hi Rachel. Most of your answer doesn't address the OP's question. While you might be correct that the behavior is "normal", it's basically irrelevant to the answer. The OP asks, "What can I do to help him through - and keep him focused on his exams?" This should be the crux of your answer. An edit would make this a better answer. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Jul 3 '15 at 18:37
  • "So really if your wife has spoken to her and she seems 'Ok' then she is likely Ok. " Very strongly disagree. The girl "told him she is going to kill herself." Suicide threats, no matter how credible, are far from "OK", and absolutely, positively need to be investigated, probably by a professional. – sleske Sep 8 '16 at 8:48
  • And with that context, advising that no counseling is necessary seems very dangerous advice. – sleske Sep 8 '16 at 8:49
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Step in and end the relationship. My son was in the sameposition. He is now 21 and living with her. Her behaviors are emotional abuse. I wish I'd done something sooner. Now it's too late for me. Don't let the same happen to your son.

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    How is that supposed to work? You can't just end someone's relationship. Should she monitor his every step? While ending the relationship may be the best option, it's a step only the son himself can take. – sleske Sep 8 '16 at 8:51
  • This is the best answer, it isn't the son's job to 'fix' this girl. She is going to drag him down and he needs to be protected from that by his parents. Especially as he is only 15. – user1450877 Jan 26 '18 at 16:57

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